Features: September 29th, 2006

Talking Diversity

By Leonora Cordon

Public sector communication has to be one the most difficult remits within the entire marketing discipline, not least because the audience is so diverse and big. Unlike their private sector counterparts who tend to have specific audience groups, for example Pampers is synonymous with mothers and its communications are designed to appeal to this specific audience. The public sector on the other hand, often finds itself having to reach every individual in the UK – a daunting task.

The fluctuating demographics in the UK only serve to make this more difficult. Currently there are 3.2 million ethnic minorities in the UK and a recent survey undertaken in London alone identified some 307 different languages, 20 of which have over 2,000 speakers.

Communicating with citizens in their first language can cause innumerable problems. Not only in terms of translation, but the different scripts involved. For example the Welsh have a letter W with a circumflex, which isn’t represented on keyboards. Furthermore, the data companies managing these names and addresses are mostly UK companies, which store an anglicised version of the contact details, and don’t see it as economically viable to write a programme that represents relatively few people.

Age, disability and culture provide different challenges

Another issue is age. By 2020 half the population will be over 50. Marketers should therefore think practically as mainstream advertising is not often accessible to everyone. Older and visually impaired people may need printed materials in a large format, while those with cognitive disabilities may need information in a simplified form of English, such as Easyread. A third of those between 50 and retirement age will also be registered as disabled. The problem here is that many older people don’t consider themselves disabled and consequently communicating with this group can be very challenging for marketers.

Moreover, a recent survey showed that companies that use amusing communications with witty copy and bright colours that aim to strike a cord with the average consumer can be alienating up to 10% of the population with dyslexia, that’s a massive 6 million people. And dyslexia is just the tip of the iceberg. There are more hidden difficulties such as Mearles-Irlen syndrome (visual stress) that affect people’s ability to access information. As many as 20% of people suffer from these issues, but because they are not in the majority such audiences are often simply ignored.

We all know that one message can’t be used to target audiences across cultural, social and age barriers. HSBC’s “World’s Local Bank” TV ads serve as a poignant reminder of the differences between various cultures around the world. For example receiving a letter in a red envelope in China is seen as signifying impending death. As a result there are scores of communications with inappropriate references that can alienate or be misunderstood by certain communities.

Understanding the cultural sensitivities of particular groups is crucial to conveying a message. It is impossible for public sector organisations to unleash a campaign without first trying to understand a community’s dynamics, such as religious and social issues and economic status. An example was the Government’s ‘Stop Forced Marriages’ campaign, which shows how it is possible to target communities with different messages. The biggest challenge was ensuring people understood the difference between arranged and forced marriages, without alienating older communities or looking like the government was condemning arranged marriages. The campaign therefore targeted potential victims with messages about the support services available; conveyed to older audiences that the government understands the cultural issues surrounding arranged marriages, but asserted that forced marriages are an abuse of human rights; and educated people in the public sector who are working with community groups about what they need to do if they think someone is facing a forced marriage.

When conducting a public information campaign marketers can’t take it for granted that their messages will reach every member of their perspective audience by classic media. Text messaging and podcasting, as well as radio and TV channels suitable for those with lower literacy levels, but digital TV can enable those who cannot leave the house to access services and products. The internet has also been found to be less penetrable to some groups. A survey commissioned by The Disability Rights Commission recently found that four out of five websites are inaccessible to disabled people.

Getting across the message about changes in postal charging

Royal Mail recently encountered all these issues during its largest ever communications campaign announcing the launch of Pricing in Proportion. On 21 August 2006 postage charges changed. As a result of the postal market opening up at the beginning of the year, Royal Mail had to take a more commercial approach and ensure that the price of its products and services were based more accurately on the true costs of delivering them and that they are priced competitively against other mail suppliers.  Pricing in Proportion is therefore all about understanding cost drivers and accurately reflecting these within the price structure. Therefore, instead of post being priced according to the weight of an item, the cost is now decided on size and shape as well as the weight of an item. Therefore, bulky but lightweight items cost more to send because of the additional resource required in collecting, sorting and delivering them. In comparison compact but heavy items cost less to send.

This change affects everyone who uses the mail in the UK. Consequently, to ensure all of its customers – businesses of all sizes across all sectors as well as the general public – were made aware of the change in pricing before it came into force, Royal Mail embarked on a £10 million integrated awareness campaign combining TV, press, radio advertising and direct marketing. The above-the-line components of the campaign were planned specifically to reach as many people as possible with the top line message that pricing is changing, whilst the direct marketing activity, which was delivered to every residential and business address in the UK (the largest ever DM campaign), gave more detailed information about the price changes. Direct mail was an integral component of the campaign because Royal Mail can reach 99.9% of the population and it gave recipients something physical to read when most convenient for them, but also keep for future reference.

In addition, Royal Mail identified six vulnerable groups – the disabled, the chronically sick, those at a pensionable age, ethnic minorities, low income groups, and consumers living in rural areas – that needed to be targeted individually to ensure the Pricing in Proportion messages reached them also.

To reach different ethnic groups, specialist titles were added to the media schedule including Asian Times, Eastern Eye, India Weekly, Punjab Times, Caribbean Times, New Nation and Asian Voice. These titles have a combined readership of 136,453 and a niche audience ensuring ethnic reach. The disabled and chronically sick were also targeted through specialist magazine advertising, including titles such as Able Magazine, Arthritis news, Disability Now, Magic Carpet, MS Matters, One in Seven Magazine, Sign Matters and Stroke News. Advertisements were also placed in major regional media such as the Western Gazette that covers Somerset, to reinforce the message in rural areas.

Royal Mail also recognised the importance of planning additional activities to target these groups. For example, Royal Mail hosted several dinners with numerous charity, disability and diversity stakeholders to ask for their input and feedback on plans. As a result a direct mail campaign to Community Care’s subscription list was planned, targeting 18,484 social care professionals. In addition a direct mail campaign was also sent to Binley’s database of GP practices encompassing 11,467 practices. The pack included leaflets for distribution to patients. Direct Mail was also sent to Binley’s GP Care Homes to reach 5,750 pensioners and terminally ill.

Citizen marketing isn’t as simple as running an ad on TV and radio, there are many considerations that must be taken into account in order to reach different groups of people in the UK. An integrated approach is essential – finding the right media to reach your audience and making the budget work harder and smarter.

Leonora Cordon is Head of Market Developments at Royal Mail.